Barcelona Scams – How to successfully avoid Pickpockets & Tourist Scams

Affiliate links
This post might contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through this link I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. But I will only recommend products and services I believe are of value for you. Thank you so much for your support.

Barcelona scams are a crucial concern for anyone planning a successful trip to the Catalan capital. While wondering whether Barcelona is dangerous or not, it’s vital to stay informed about the risks of pickpockets and tourist traps in Barcelona. Having lived here for years, I’m intimately familiar with the various tricks these thieves use.

This article will guide you in avoiding theft and scams in Barcelona, ensuring your experience in this captivating city remains safe and memorable.

About the author, Vicki: As someone who proudly calls Barcelona home and has spent years delving into every nook and cranny of this vibrant city, I’m excited to share my favorite spots and insider tips with you. From bustling landmarks to quiet, hidden alleys – Join me as I reveal the best of Barcelona, including those off-the-beaten-track gems that make this city truly unique.

autorin vicki franz in barcelona, park güell, reisebloggerin


Where to stay in Barcelona: Hotel Santa Marta (Great hotel in the center near attractions & beach) or W Barcelona (Luxury option directly at the beach)

The most popular activities & tours in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia Ticket – Skip the Line

Camp Nou – Barça Museum und Tour

Barcelona Card – More than 25 Attractions

Park Güell – Skip the Line

La Pedrera – Skip the Line

Getting there: Make sure to check for the best flight deals on Flight comparisons like Skyscanner

Transport: T-Casual Ticket (10-trips-Ticket for € 12.15) or Hola BCN Day Ticket

Want to rent a car? You can find great deals on RentalCars. It gets cheaper from El Prat Airport.

Barcelona Must-Have: Practical Spanish Travel Dictionary or Catalan Travel Dictionary and Barcelona-Guide

General safety instructions and precautions for Barcelona

  • Really Important: You should never let your belongings out of sight.
  • You should try to show your valuables as little as possible, so leave your laptop inside your bag and your expensive jewelry at home.
  • If you are approached on the street, do not unquestioningly trust anyone in the first place.
  • Learn the local police numbers before arrival: 112 or 092.
  • Have a bag/backpack that can not be opened without your knowledge, e.g., a theft-proof backpack.
  • Bring as few valuables as possible with you.
  • Take only as much money with you as you need for the day.
  • Make copies of your passport/ ID card or other important documents and keep them in different locations.
  • Try to appear self-confident because if you look lost, pickpockets might get attracted.
  • Do not leave any valuables on the beach when you go to have a swim.
  • Be sure to get good travel insurance before your tripAxa Insurance also insures you against thefts while traveling.

Security in Barcelona

barcelona pickpocket in the metro, man takes cell phone from woman's bag unnoticed while she looks at her cell phone

Pickpockets in Barcelona

Although the number of thefts (see graph above) is no longer relatively as high as it was in 2022, after the end of the pandemic-related travel restrictions, a total of 64,831 thefts were recorded in Barcelona in the third quarter of 2023 alone. That’s an average of around 705 thefts per day. (However, this also includes minor shoplifting).

According to the Spanish magazine La Vanguardia, it can be assumed that there were even around eight pickpocketings per hour in Barcelona back in 2022.

Will I be robbed in Barcelona?

First, the good news: Not every tourist gets robbed in Barcelona. Those who do are often distracted and let their bag out of sight.

I’ve been living in Barcelona since 2016 and haven’t been robbed myself – even though people have tried a few times. It’s important to keep your eyes open and react quickly if you feel something is off.

– Vicki

Where in the city are you particularly at risk?

First of all, you should never leave your valuables unattended in Barcelona, no matter where you are.

However, places where there are a large number of people or where people are quickly or easily distracted are particularly popular.

These are among others

  • the Metro of Barcelona,
  • Clubs,
  • Bars,
  • Restaurants,
  • Las Ramblas,
  • Barrio Gótico,
  • the area around Sagrada Família,
  • Plaza Cataluña,
  • Park Güell
  • the beaches of Barcelona (be especially careful if you are going to the beach alone)
  • and similar.

Also popular among thieves are

  • Carrer Montcada,
  • Carrer de la Princessa,
  • Rambla de Raval,
  • Mercat Santa Caterina and surroundings.

Also severely affected are places where you usually carry a lot of luggage, such as

  • the main station Sants Estació,
  • Estació de França,
  • the main bus stations
  • Estación del Nord and Metro line 9 (Orange), which runs between Barcelona and the El Prat Airport.

Are there violent robberies?

Although these occur occasionally, as in any big city, thefts in Barcelona are generally non-violent – on the contrary, the victim usually only realizes much later that they have just been robbed.

In general, you don’t have to worry too much about violent assaults in Barcelona. Nevertheless, you should be careful if you are out alone at night.

Who are the pickpockets?

While many claim it is primarily foreigners, there is no absolute standard thief. They can be found in all age groups – even children and senior citizens are among the thieves, as are foreigners, but also many locals, men, and a surprisingly high number of women.

What to do if you have been robbed in Barcelona

Don’t panic! Naturally, it’s a terrible feeling to get robbed and find yourself in a foreign country without any money, a mobile phone, or a passport. But first of all, keep calm and work through the following steps:

  1. Firstly, make sure to block all your credit cards immediately. Always carry your credit card provider’s contact number, and keep it separate from your valuables.
  2. Then, lock your SIM card, especially if it’s not prepaid. This is just a precaution since thieves often discard SIM cards quickly to avoid being tracked.
  3. Next, head to the nearest police station. Expect long lines, as you’re probably not the only victim of theft (your accommodation can assist in locating the closest one).
  4. File a police report, and it helps if you have the serial numbers of your stolen items. Leave your contact information in case your belongings are found. Often, thieves discard wallets after taking the cash and cards, so you might still recover your IDs and other items.
  5. Finally, take your police report to your country’s consulate to get a temporary passport or ID for your journey home.
  6. Don’t forget to inform your insurance company about the theft.

The most common tourist traps & Barcelona Scams and how to avoid them

In the following, we want to show you the most common tourist traps, scams, and theft scenarios so you can avoid them.

The pickpockets of Barcelona are constantly innovating, finding new ways to steal your valuables. The latest and most common methods can be found here.

The Classic

pickpocketing in front of the sagrada familia in barcelona, man steals from the backpack of a passing woman

The most common way thieves steal from you is through brief body contact, often in busy places like Barcelona’s popular tourist spots, clubs, or the metro. They might “accidentally” bump into you, using those few seconds to swipe your phone or wallet. You might think, “I’d definitely notice if someone were stealing from me!” But the truth is, it often goes undetected.

Personal anecdote: I’ve experienced this firsthand. Once, just after my best friend arrived in Barcelona, a pickpocket swiftly stole her phone in a crowded metro. He snatched it from her closed purse as he passed by. As he brushed past us, her bag seemed to stick to his side momentarily. I jokingly commented on how quickly she was making ‘friends,’ given he wasn’t her type or age.

It was only minutes later when we left the subway, that we realized her new phone, which had been in her magnetically sealed handbag, was gone – and so was the man. Even my partner, who was right in front of us and saw everything from a different angle, hadn’t noticed the theft.

How to avoid this scam

  • Never let your valuables out of your sight. A few seconds of carelessness may already be too much.
  • Put your hand on your bag in the metro or crowded places.
  • Or hang your backpack in front of your stomach so that you can see it.
  • It also helps to use a combination lock or an anti-theft backpack.

The Classic + Distraction

men playing with soccer in the streets of barcelona, hands from the side go unnoticed

This classic form of theft often involves teamwork. One or several people distract you while another person steals from you unnoticed.

Common tactics include someone dancing close to you in a club or performing soccer tricks on the street. A pretend footballer or street performer might playfully kick the ball around you or dribble it between your legs, getting close to you in the process.

While you’re distracted by the ball or even drawn into the game, either the performer himself or one of his accomplices will steal your valuables.

How to avoid this scam

  • Here, too, you should never allow yourself to be distracted away from your valuables. Always keep an eye on them.
  • Theft-proof backpacks or a combination lock on your luggage can be helpful.

Bird dirt – currently one of the most popular variants

bird droppings scam in barcelona, man is covered in bird droppings, woman helps him clean up, safety in barcelona

Whether pigeons, seagulls, or monk parakeets, Barcelona is full of birds. So, it’s easy not to suspect anything amiss when you fall prey to the following tourist scam:

As you wander through Barcelona’s narrow alleys, pickpockets might discreetly smear or throw a liquid on your clothes. Soon after, ‘helpers’ conveniently appear with wet wipes or tissues to ‘clean’ what looks like bird droppings off you.

During this distraction, they have the perfect opportunity to relieve you of your belongings. Sometimes, this trick is performed without any liquid at all; they simply pretend there’s a stain on your clothing.

How to avoid this scam

  • Make it clear immediately that you do NOT need help cleaning up.
  • If the supposed helpers try to touch you, make it clear that you do not want them to.
  • If necessary, push them slightly away from you and try to get the attention of the bystanders or ask specifically for help.
  • If you don’t have any wipes with you, you can remove the stains in the nearest public toilet. In my experience, restaurant staff are usually very friendly and happily provide you with water, tissues, and napkins.

The Tourist

pickpocketing, man is covered by card while another opens his backpack in the streets of barcelona

This trick also uses some sort of distraction method, which is becoming increasingly popular in Barcelona. A person pretending to be a tourist asks you for directions on the street. While the alleged tourist gets you involved in a conversation, his colleague cleans out your backpack unnoticed.

Even more popular is this trick with a city map spread out and held over your bag so that a colleague under the map can steal your belongings from your bag without you noticing it because the map hides your bag.

How to avoid this scam

It’s almost logical: why would a tourist ask another tourist for directions? Isn’t it evident that tourists don’t know their way around the city?

  • So if you are approached, refer them to locals.
  • If you know your way around and want to help, put your hand over your bag
  • and pull it out from under the map so it is not out of sight.

The survey

Survey on tablet, Barcelona scams

Similar to the tourist trap just introduced, you will be approached here to participate in an alleged survey. The clipboard is held over your valuables so your bag can be opened unnoticed.

How to avoid this scam

Not every survey you find in Barcelona is a tourist trap. In fact, quite a few surveys are designed to improve the city. The city also employs a good friend of mine to run surveys, including for tourists.

  • These official workers often have an ID noticeably hanging around their necks and usually carry a laptop rather than a clipboard to record the answers.
  • Never let your valuables out of your sight, and make sure that nothing is covering your valuables.

The Tourist and the Police

police tourist trap barcelona, tourist couple is approached by two men with masks, confused facial expression

This trick starts similarly to the previous one. Someone approaches you, asking for directions, the time, or something similar, and then disappears.

Shortly after, you’re approached by men claiming to be undercover police officers. They might even show some form of identification. They explain that the person who just talked to you is suspected of terrorism, drug trafficking, or something along those lines.

Then, they ask to see your identification documents (which they use either to check where you keep your wallet or as a distraction tactic). They may also want to search your backpack.

Either way, you’ll later realize that your valuables are gone. Some tourists are even asked to provide their PIN to “verify their identity.”

How to avoid this scam

  • Make sure you only open your rucksack at the nearest official police station.
  • You can find the nearest police station on Google Maps. – Some scammers are even said to use a fake “police station” where they have you sign false papers/purchase contracts.
  • Therefore, check online whether it is a reputable police station.

The Flower

flower tourist trap, old lady gives tourists a flower in the streets of barcelona

This scam isn’t unique to Barcelona; it’s also used in many other countries. Typically, an older woman hands you a flower or a branch, pretending it’s a gift.

If you accept the flower, here’s what might happen:

  1. She might grab your wrist, claiming to read your future. During this, she’ll attempt to steal from you, often targeting wristwatches.
  2. If that doesn’t work, she’ll insist on payment for her ‘service‘ or the flower itself.
  3. In the last scenario, if you pull out your wallet to pay, she might swiftly take more money without your noticing or snatch it from your hand and run off.

How to avoid this scam

  • Do not accept the flower under any circumstances. No matter how often she insists that it is a gift.
  • If she tries to put it in your hand, just drop it and keep walking.
  • If possible, don’t even stop in the first place.

Helpless old man

old man tourist trap, security, old man lying on the ground in barcelona while three men are bent over him

This trick is used on both tourists and locals:

An old man ‘falls’ near you. Naturally, you rush over to help and check if he’s okay.

While you’re tending to the man on the ground, one or two other individuals appear, seemingly concerned about the older man as well. As you’re distracted with helping, they stealthily steal your valuables. Once they’ve taken what they want, the older man miraculously gets up with the aid of his supposed helpers and walks away.

How to avoid this scam

  • Of course, you should help and assume this is not always a trick.
  • Despite everything, you should never lose sight of your valuables. However, this may be easier said than done.

Restaurant Scam

restaurant scam, tables outside in the gothic quarter of barcelona, many tourists sit on the street at outside terraces and tables

One thing you should not do in Barcelona is eat in one of the restaurants in Las Ramblas. The prices are way above average, and the quality usually leaves a lot to be desired.

While the restaurants here can be seen as tourist traps in themselves, sometimes it gets worse. (Of course, this can also happen to you in any other restaurant or café in Barcelona):

A group or individual sits down at the table next to yours, only to disappear again after a short time – taking your luggage or things from your backpack or bag with them.

How to avoid this scam

  • Avoid the restaurants in Las Ramblas.
  • Do not hang your bag or rucksack over the back of your chair, but keep it on your lap or between your feet.
  • Put your chair leg through the loop of your backpack/bag.
  • Never leave your bag/laptop/backpack unattended when ordering or going to the restroom.

False Beggars

False beggars on the street, beggar scam in Barcelona

Like in most big cities, Barcelona has its share of fake beggars. They display cardboard signs with the saddest stories, which are usually made up to elicit sympathetic donations.

Some of these beggars approach you while you’re dining outside in bars or restaurants, trying to persuade you to donate.

Occasionally, they even go as far as claiming they’re tourists who have just been robbed and need money to get home or to the airport.

Update: I’m hearing more frequently about a blonde Irishman, around his mid-30s, using this exact same story to “borrow” money from people on the streets. He often targets young women and uses various names, often Kyle.

An even worse tactic that’s becoming more common involves beggars who, as soon as you open your wallet to give them something, snatch the money from your hand and run off, completely exploiting your kindness.

How to avoid this scam

  • Unfortunately, there is no way to tell who really needs the money and who is begging as a tourist trap.
  • Of course, we sympathize with the poor people on the street, but for every real homeless person, there are, unfortunately, all the more fake beggars and tourist traps.
  • In this case, unfortunately, the only thing that helps is to move on
  • If you want, you can take the money a little further out of your pocket, go back and give it to the beggar.

Alleged Helper on the Highway

man on highway in barcelona, highway scam, catalonia, travel warning

Not just in Barcelona itself but also on the highway heading north (especially on the A7), tourist traps await, particularly if you’re driving a car with foreign license plates.

A car might approach from behind, signaling you with flashing lights, honking, shouting, or even throwing small stones to alert you to a supposed flat tire. (In some cases, your tires might have been intentionally punctured beforehand, while in others, it’s just a trick).

As soon as you stop and get out to check your car, the thieves steal valuables from your vehicle or even the entire car, leaving you stranded on the roadside.

How to avoid this scam

  • If you find yourself in this situation, you should not stop under any circumstances.
  • Drive to the nearest service station to check your car for damage.
  • If you are being followed, call the emergency number 112 and inform them of your situation.
  • Never leave any valuables in the car, and lock your vehicle correctly as soon as you get out.

How to fill a Police Report

Although Barcelona is very touristy, you shouldn’t rely on anyone in the police station speaking English. If you can take a local to translate, that would be better. If not, the following points may be helpful.

  • Include all serial numbers, ID card numbers, and passport numbers that you may have.
  • Prepare for long wait times
  • Use the following vocabulary list to fill in your police report

Vocabulary list for filling a police report

Word in EnglishTranslation to Spanish
Theftrobo or hurto
mobile phonemóvil
money dinero
identity card Carné de identidad
addressdirección / domicilio
countrypaís de origen
passport numbernúmero de pasaporte

Why are there so many pickpockets in Barcelona?

Like many big cities, Barcelona has a significant number of impoverished residents, particularly immigrants who came seeking a better life but struggle due to high unemployment.

This situation, coupled with the crowds of tourists carrying money, makes the city a hotbed for pickpockets and tourist traps.

But why is it so prevalent in Barcelona?

A key reason is the Spanish legal system. Pickpockets caught with less than €400 in stolen goods often face no severe consequences.

So, if a pickpocket is caught with less than €400, they’re usually free to go and will likely resume their activities soon after. This lenient approach is surprising and contributes to the problem, attracting more pickpockets to Barcelona and other Spanish cities.

In fact, whole families specializing in pickpocketing are drawn to Spain. A recent documentary highlighted Romanian families who have gained wealth through pickpocketing tourists and locals in Barcelona.

Who is the thieves’ target group?

Wallet with money in your pocket, pickpockets in Barcelona

While initially predominately tourists were the target of pickpockets, today, there is no longer a clearly defined target group. Anyone who can be robbed is robbed. Of course, this is more often the case with foreigners and tourists – those not (yet) familiar with the city and culture are more likely to fall gullibly into the trap. But even those who are distracted and do not keep an eye on their belongings can easily fall victim to such robberies.

Tourists and expats traveling as digital nomads tend to carry more cash or valuables, such as cameras or laptops, which attract muggers. As a result, pickpockets are more common in the city’s tourist areas.

The following are therefore particularly popular with pickpockets:

  • Tourists,
  • elderly people
  • parents,
  • and drunks.

Conclusion on Barcelona security

Barcelona is a beautiful city and worth a visit. Therefore, you shouldn’t let possible security concerns ruin your vacation.

Keep an eye on your (valuable) belongings at all times, and it’s best to leave really valuable things at home (or in the hotel safe). Don’t get involved in strange games with strangers, and as soon as you feel uncomfortable in a situation, leave the place or seek help from others.

Have you ever been robbed or have any helpful safety tips? Please let us know in the comments below.


About the AuthorVicki

Hi, we are Vicki & Eduardo, an international travel couple on a mission to help you save money for priceless travel experience. Follow us through the miracles of this world and you will be rewarded with a bunch of practical travel tips.

More about us
5/5 - (16 votes)

6 thoughts on Barcelona Scams – How to successfully avoid Pickpockets & Tourist Scams

  1. We traveled to Barcelona in September, 2019. While sight seeing on the ” hop on, hop off ” bus, we encountered a very attractive couple from the USA. They followed us onto the bus, and began asking TOO many questions. A red flag went off when they insisted that we join them for drinks at the Westin Hotel . We declined and began to ignore them. After which they quickly exited the hop on, hop off bus. The young lady was blond, fit and very attractive. She was dressed like a tourist, with a straw hat. Her accomplice, an attractive man, about six foot two, in his early 40’s, with tattoos on both arms. Both wore large sunglasses and had no day packs nor bags. We both felt that had we joined them, we would have been assaulted and robbed.
    I have traveled extensively, this is a new type of scam similar to other thefts mentioned on this page. Beware of ‘ tourist ‘, who speak perfect English, that are TOO friendly.

    • Hi Tom,

      Thank you so much for the warning and your personal experience. I have heard of this scam a lot in other places (the same happened to me in Beijing. Some couple that tried to convince us to have some drinks with them in order to “practice some English” even though they already spoke English fluently. Luckily my friend has heard of this scam before and declined). It’s sad to hear that this scam now also made it to Barcelona. Thank you again for the heads up and stay safe!

  2. Hi Vicki,
    that was one of the most comprehensive guides I have read regarding this topic here in Barcelona. Well done! I have many clients asking if Barcelona is dangerous. But I would say it is not if you avoid certain places at certain times and be a bit mindful and follow your sound advice!


Comments are closed.